Blessing God in a Dark World

Why are we also in danger every hour? I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.

1 Corinthians 15:30-32 (NASB)

It would be less frustrating if the Almighty’s face weren’t hidden. Everything would be clear and our decisions easy. We’d certainly sleep better at night. But that’s not our challenge, that’s not our opportunity for growth.

We need to rouse ourselves now, to move forward with faith and optimism, recognizing that even though He may be hidden, it’s all in His hands. And on Purim, we can take a small drink (emphasis on small), just to help ease our anxieties and inhibitions and clear the path to this recognition.

We pray that this be the year where the whole Jewish people comes to recognize the Almighty’s presence and where the mask of darkness is removed from our world.

-Emuna Braverman
“When God Hides His Face”

I was recently challenged to do the following:

James..there’s a lot you could write to us about glorifying G-d with all our soul/nephesh (Kiddush Hashem) in life now and in the face of death.

terrorism in nice
Credit: VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images

That’s no small request, especially since I don’t always know how to glorify God when my soul feels like it’s been run over by a tank.

The world’s a pretty horrible place. The most recent atrocity is the terrorist attack in Nice, France, and particularly how Europe is treating a terrorist attack against non-Jews vs. how it normally responds when Palestinian Arabs murder Israeli Jews.

As I said in my previous blog post, I get tired. I get tired of all the woe and grief in the world. I get tired of arguing with the religious pundits. I get tired of arguing with the social justice warriors (SJW), particularly the religious ones.

I want to go back to bed and pull the covers up over my eyes.

But that’s hardly blessing God in the face of adversity, in the face of a faithless and morally corrupt world, in the face of all the bad things and then the worse things that are going to happen between now and the return of Messiah.

I think a common problem, as least as I understand it, in blessing God during adversity is that we aren’t always focused on God, we’re focused on the adversity.

OK, to be fair, when someone steps on your toes, it hurts and you yell “Ouch!” Pretty hard not to pay attention to the pain.

But after the momentary “ouch,” and once we regain our composure, we can rededicate our focus on God once more.

Of course, it’s easier to do that if our focus on God was there before the “ouch”.

That’s right. The secret to focusing on God while under duress is to focus on God before trouble begins and to make it a habit.

That’s one of the things I like about observant Judaism. There’s a blessing and a ritual for everything. I know many Christians see that as a straight-jacket, but it can also be very organizing. If you develop a discipline of praying to God and blessing Him at regular and specific times of day, chances are God will be a lot nearer at hand when the world blows up in your face than if you were just praying to God whenever you felt like it (which for many Christians, usually means praying whenever you want something or when you feel an “ouch”).

Although the majority of Jews living in Israel are secular, there is something about the Jews in the Holy Land. Whether they choose to acknowledge it or not, God is particularly close to Jews in Israel, Jews who have returned to the Land in response to prophesy.

Like Paul, we have our hope in the resurrection, but like Paul, we should always be aware of the nearness of trouble, pain, and death. If we lose our hope in God, we’ve lost everything, so indeed, let us “party hardy,” because nothing really matters in the long run. We might as well be wasting our time playing Pokémon Go, because life and death, faith and God don’t mean anything.

I previously said that in response to an SJW, the most important thing to me was playing with my grandchildren, celebrating life rather than wallowing in oppression, victimhood, and sorrow.

prayers in the darkHowever, that’s just one small expression of what’s really, really important. Drawing nearer to God. If we start doing that now and do it everyday, we will already be closer to God when trouble comes. If we wait until trouble and pain comes, it may become too hard to focus our attention on Him, especially if we’re yelling “Ouch!” all the time.

In principle, it’s not that hard. Read the Bible every day. Set aside fixed times of prayer. Perform some sort of devotional on a daily basis. Be aware of opportunities to do good in your community every day and perform at least one mitzvah (commandment) each day, always with an awareness of the God who is over your head.

Is it easy?

No. If it were, we’d all do it. If it were, I probably wouldn’t complain so often and give in to bad impulses to engage intractable people on social media.

Oh, and I did another minor Facebook “purge” this morning, just for the sake of my peace of mind. I like being exposed to a variety of opinions, but I draw the line at hostility and self-righteousness.

If we wake up being thankful to God for our lives and go to sleep asking for His protection, and if we regularly “touch base” with Him during the day, on the day of woe, He will already be our old companion.

The opinions of men, their transitory social imperatives, their fluid and relative morality, this is like sand on the beach, there one day and washed back out into the ocean the next. Only God is our rock and our deliverer, both from the world and from the darkest parts of our own souls.

If I were better at this, I’m sure my soul wouldn’t have such large dark parts. But the arm of God is not too short to save, even someone like me.

14 thoughts on “Blessing God in a Dark World”

    1. Thanks for commenting and following my blog. I hope that prayer is just the beginning of what we can do. We can’t do the job of Christ, but we can help by showing one another compassion, teaching the lessons of righteousness, and living lives in humility to God.

  1. I am still learning to bless G-d for every good thing, and even being able to cope with a bad thing, but you are correct…the more you focus on being thankful…blessing G-d for whatever you are blessing him for…for giving to us a good thing, teaching us an important thing or even a minor one, or for showing us something we need to see, the more you notice what there is to bless G-d for. After that, it’s learning how to say a blessing.

    Blessed art thou, YHVH Tsavaot, for giving strength to James, that he is feeling able to write today.

  2. Amen, to the prayer above from Questor. James, this is profound.
    As a Gentile, I think I will have to formulate my own prayers – and slow down again, enough to establish routine. When my husband was alive we focused on living a day at a time, celebrating each moment we had as a family together. We didn’t dare to look further as we were dealing with out of control cancer. But G-d was certainly there with me in those dark days and he provided for us in all aspects.
    Now as a single parent I seem to have gotten into a distracting busyness that leaves me exhausted at the end of the day with one mumbled prayer as I fade into sleep (in the third world there are a hundred and one things that can go wrong at any time!)
    I like this – touching base with G-d to give thanks at every turn.
    When Life is good, so we should celebrate that good when it is present giving thanks to our G-d for what we enjoy. He is its source. And we shall be able to celebrate Him even when His face hidden for a while.
    I think normalcy has its distractions as well as adversity as you put it so well…therefore it is up to us to keep a regular focus on G-d thanking him for his sovereignty over all conditions that come by. I think that’s why the mention of G-d as King is always part of a bracha.
    And we have to also pass this way of life on to our next generation. Just as we teach our kids to say “Thank you!” to strangers with a smile I think this more or less the same for us, only we are addressing our
    G-d and King. It’s hard learning to look for a hundred and one things to be grateful about. Childhood eyes outdo us here. As adults our outlook is somewhat dimmed.
    It is hard to see G-d working for our good even in the darkness in our lives.
    The Holocaust was one terrible era of which I cannot venture to speak about as I did not experience it and can only imagine the horrors it held for those who went through it. What good ever came of it all? Only G-d can answer to that question…
    Sorry for the late comment. Had to read it several times while doing the housework as my house help didn’t come today. I still need to go through it in case I missed anything else.

    Thanks James again. Its a joy to be with grand children…I’m sure at least you have a lot to laugh about when you are with them. Lucky you.
    I feel I am almost forgetting how to. Too much time spent alone.

  3. @Marleen: “Philemon go?” I know it was a typo, but it made me chuckle. Thanks.

    @Questor: Our relationship with God is a journey, not a destination. We’re always in the process of learning to do it better. That’s what makes it so exciting. There’s always something new to look forward to.

    @Christ, Race, and Unity: True.

    @Margareth: A friend of mine suffers from ALS and as he speaks about his relationship with his family, particularly with his wife, I can understand just a bit about living “one day at a time.”

    Unlike observant Jews, we do have more freedom to establish our own routines and traditions. Those routines could even be adapted according to how your daily schedule is set up. Prayers don’t have to be lengthy or elaborate. I’m sure God understands the struggles of a single parent, and I’m sure He’s compassionate about your difficulties and how exhausted you get.

    While we can consider having a relationship with God our sacred duty, it can also be compared to having a constant companion. Even when we don’t feel we have time to talk to Him, He’s with us anyway. It’s not like He goes someplace else when we don’t have the time and energy to pray, so our prayers don’t affect His love for us.

    The advantage of “touching base” with God regularly is that it helps us become more aware of Him, and helps us turn to Him in both good times and bad. Even when you feel alone, He is close to you. When everyone else in our lives goes away, He will still be there.


  4. @James: It made me chuckle too. I guess you missed my improved version of that post (posted a few minutes later).

  5. Herbert Schlossberg in “A Fragrance of Oppression” had an profound bit on the fact that having a long view of time because this takes our eyes off ourselves to the horizon.
    It reduces our pandering towards the self enabling us to better allocate our youth towards serving G-d better. The individual in the biblical economy lives forever hence the need for the cultivation of each one into steadfast discipleship. Sounds like C S Lewis on the individual vs civilisation…
    One cannot focus on preserving the church because in the end we become rationalists or pragmatists ending up with a structure not worth preserving.
    So it boils down to our Master’s technique. Have paraphrased most of it.
    I hope James, you can put it better with what you can glean from Judaism’s treasury of thought and writings because after all they have been around for centuries!

  6. Like you, I have found Aish articles really uplifting. It has really made me respectful for the profound wisdom I see in the articles there.
    There are people like this I have met on the slopes of mount Kilimanjaro where my mother comes from. Their lives are hard and yet when you make an impromptu visit, their lined faces literally beam with happiness and they make sure they give a prayer of thanks before you are invited to eat and before you go. They put me to quite to shame in their faith and hope and joyfulness of attitude. Maybe the city life is what is destroying me…I do love being up there on the mountain. The missionaries outdid themselves up there.
    I trust your day has gone well.

    1. My day is fine, Margareth. Thank you.

      I know you’ve described the hardships of your life, but from my point of view living in southwestern Idaho, it seems incredible to be able to say you met people living on the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro. It illustrates that no matter who we are or where we live, no matter how far apart we are in terms of geography, nationality, language, and culture, we are all one in the Lord God. Most of us, we believers in the United States, tend to believe our problems and lives here are the only problems and lives. We rarely pull out heads out of the sand to realize how truly diverse are the people of God, how different our experiences, our very lives are from one another. And yet we are all brothers and sisters through our faith in Messiah. May he return soon and in our day.

      I’d like to pull this brief transaction from the comments here and make it a blog post all it’s own. This realization, which escapes most of the Church in the west, needs to be pointed out and brought to light. I only wish I could bring these words to every Christian, Hebrew Roots person, and everyone attached to Messianic Judaism in any way, so we could all open our eyes and see that our struggles aren’t the only struggles, and that people of deep faith lives all across the face of the Earth. It is God’s world and He will one day come back to live among us, in His Temple in Jerusalem, and the King will once again rule in Justice and Righteousness.

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